Akademik Lomonosov

Fire! Controlling this wonderful, exothermic, chemical reaction enabled humans to vault over all lifeforms and become dominant on planet Earth. Some argue that our ancestors had control of fire over a million years ago. Not quite as long ago, we learned to use similar chemical reactions to access the energy stored in fossil fuels like petroleum. Very recently, we learned to split large atoms into smaller ones via controlled nuclear reactions. And we used the resulting energy release to further our domination on Earth.

With nuclear energy, we have controlled, ready access to very, very large amounts of energy. We’ve built large nuclear power reactors beside many population centres for this very reason. We also build floating reactors to bring accessible energy to demanding places. For almost ten years MH-1A supplied 10MWe to the Panama Canal Zone. Now, the floating Akademik Lomonosov ($232M), a brand new endeavour, will provide a similar service in that it can use nuclear fission to provide 70MWe to whichever port it is alongside. Currently it’s slated to replace the Bilibino nuclear reactor (164.8GW.h) nearby Pevek (65°N,170°E).

We recognize that our civilization needs energy to progress. Actually, we need very large amounts of readily accessible energy simply to sustain ourselves as the Akademik Lomonosov demonstrates. Over the last few decades, and centuries, we’ve become accustomed to consuming ever more readily accessible and cost efficient energy. But quantities of fossil fuels and of nuclear fuel are limited on Earth. What becomes of our civilization if the consumption trend continues but the energy supplies fail? Can we rely upon fire to maintain our civilization?

Moscow Times
Akademik Lomonosov

Bucket List

The lucky young have their whole lives ahead of them. They can dream of adventures and plan for them in the future. Great times. However, as we age and we realize that there are only a limited number of days before we are too old to travel then planning becomes serious. Often we create a Bucket List; a list of things we want to do before we die. Many, if not all, items on the list consist of travel. To be a tourist. That’s lucky.

Tourism has become quite an industry. One source has it generating $7.6trillion in 2014. Close to 10% of global GDP. Another sources sets international tourist arrivals at 1.4 billion in 2018; that’s about 20% of the global population. Tourism generates 319 million jobs world wide; that’s about 10% of the estimated global employment. All told, tourism is expansive and growing.

Now let’s appreciate what tourism is all about. Tourism is leisure. Tourism is neither a necessity nor a right. We don’t need to be a tourist to survive. Tourism is a luxury. And after all, a Bucket List is all about ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’. Now what does this ‘want’ cost us in energy? Let’s draw a direct comparison between energy and money. Therefor, if tourism uses 10% of GDP then we claim that it uses 10% of global annual energy usage. This amounts to 5.67e19 Joules which is almost equal to the world’s total electrical energy consumption. Think about it. We are effectively allocating all of world’s electrical production to tourism.

If the supply of clean, useful energy was limitless then using a good portion of it for leisure doesn’t represent a problem. And today, with little concern for energy future’s there seems to be little concern about how we allocate its usage. But what happens when the supply of energy diminishes? How should we discriminate between needs and wants? Are we ready to remove items from our Bucket List so that future generations can prosper?

 

Raw

 

Orderly Disorder

Humans have been rated as the most anti-entropic agent known. Perhaps ants could give them a run for their money. But humans have really excelled at filtering, separating, cleaning, sorting and re-arranging so as to bring a large amount of order to planet Earth. Or at least order according to the view of humans.

For example, humans, especially chemists, have figured out how to make marvellous structures. The Burj Khalifa is a prime example of an exacting mix of molecules and compounds so as to enable a structure for humans to live, thrive and profit. At an estimated cost of $1.5Billion, ever wonder how long it will continue providing the expected functions to humans? This is a solid example of humans using energy to create an ordered arrangement, i.e. negentropy.

Another example is Pont Morandi. This structure, at €3.8Billion, enabled over 25.5 million transits a year. Opened in 1967, this structure might be a case study in hubris as apparently, humans didn’t  precisely define adequate composition and shape of materials. Thus, after being called a failure in engineering due to high maintenance costs, the structure self-collapsed in 2018. Causing the death of 43 people. In result, humans used a tonne of explosives to blow up the remains of Pont Morandi. This is energy to design, build, maintain and then destroy this entropic arrangement. Do you wonder if the net energy worth of this structure is positive or negative? And, would the net entropy be positive for this bridge? Or, in the end, is it an example of humans pushing the overall surface state of the earth faster to a higher entropy?

Humans continue to create and construct. Yet few structures have stood the test of time as the pyramids of Khufu. Should we continue building structures based solely upon short term financial gain? Or, is there value in considering the endeavour’s net energy consumption and its effect on the Earth’s surface entropy; its slide to disorder? Will humans ever be sufficiently circumspect?

Water Lily
Water Lily

Growth

Growth is a great mantra for economies. Continual growth leads to advancing prosperity; even to the increase in individual wealth. And whether it’s due to nature or nurture, or both, most people prefer the excess caused by growth. And when people get what they prefer then they readily support the government. Thus government’s economists demand growth to appease the ratepayers. And the mantra spins on.

Subsuming to the mantra of growth has brought great prosperity to many people and many civilizations. But everyone knows that growth is limited. People can build only so many homes until there are not enough people to live in them. Japan is a case in point with a population with some of the longest life expectancies; but this expectancy may be instrumental in its ever decreasing population. Equally, there is only so much arable land; though a continual 2percent increase in crop production makes one wonder, “what is the limit?” And then there are the seas. Once imagined to be limitless, these wonders of Earth have proved to have boundaries. While fish capture rates have maintained a steady value of about 85 million tonnes annually, aquaculture has boomed to provide another 85 million tonnes. Will the mantra strike reality?

While people have certainly met their natural goal of maximizing their progeny, is it possible that they are limiting the potential of their progeny?  People may get smarter and invent new ways to garner energy, to grow food and to construct abodes. Now does a mantra of continual growth achieve the best future for the progeny? Or could economists enable our progeny to sing to better?

flowers
Les Fleurs

The Petrol Station

For the privileged few, there’s nothing more carefree than driving along on a big, empty, wide open highway. You aim for the horizon and you’re not too worried about whether you get there or not. Roll down the window, let the breeze blow through your hair and relax as all your worries disappear.

Relax until the dashboard displays a light that you’ve never seen before. It can’t be, it’s the big red Low Fuel warning light. It pulsates steadily. Dimming a little as the sun shines on it then brightening as the dashboard re-enters the shade. With it, somehow the horizon becomes much less inviting and a petrol station, any petrol station, would be gratefully discovered. The petrol station, an oasis from which to fill the car’s tank and perhaps add a bit more to your own tank, your stomach. But the map display on the dashboard shows you that the closest petrol station is a few hundred kilometres away. Your drive is no longer worry free.

While the above is a simple little bit of fiction, it is analogous to humans on Earth. We’re driving along a technological and cultural highway. But where the car in the story consumes the same rate of petrol, humans are consuming more fuel and faster. Each and every day. There are more humans. And each of them want more and better services. We can change our story to reflect this. The change is that once the Low Fuel Warning light appears then you accelerate, which of course burns fuel at a greater rate. But this higher rate doesn’t get you any greater a chance of reaching the petrol station.

One option is to lighten the load in the car. This will allow the driver to go further, would it be far enough? An analogy to this is reflected by the recent UN report stating that over 1 million species are nearing extinction due to humankind.  That’s one eighth of the total. Without those creatures then there’s more energy available for humans. Ever wonder what the Earth will be like once those creatures are gone? Ever wonder if driving a car aimlessly down a highway is truly carefree?

La Fleur